When I began my freshman year at Princeton last fall, I was a nervous wreck.

I was afraid of leaving my familiar life in Cambridge, with my supportive network of friends and family, and moving to a place on my own. In addition, I was worried that I would be unable to keep up in such a highly competitive, rigorous academic setting. In the weeks prior to my departure, I cried in public on more than one occasion and suffered from bouts of anxiety-induced nausea all the way through orientation. My reaction surprised me; I had always been a strong student and an outgoing, adventurous person. I had gone away to summer camps and programs in different states and even spent the spring semester of my junior year at a boarding school in Rome. I never expected to be the type of person to struggle with the adjustment to college, but I did—and so does almost everyone. Adjusting to college isn’t easy no matter who you are, and everyone faces challenges. A few pitfalls early on are inevitable, but don’t be discouraged: with every mistake comes an invaluable lesson.

The first and most important lesson I learned was in the importance of time management.

I had this idea drilled into my head at so many information sessions and student panels that the phrase began to lose its meaning, but this repetition was not without good reason. It is an adjustment all college freshmen must make quickly, or they will pay the sleep-deprived consequences. 

One of the most salient differences between high school and college, which makes the academic adjustment so perilous, is how your daily schedule is organized. Gone are the predictable 8 AM to 3 PM days. Gone are the study hall proctors and strict parents hovering as you struggle through every last question on your calculus homework. What has taken their place? Freedom, independence, and hours of vast uncharted, unstructured time. This may seem like a cause for celebration, and it is, but this so-called free time can be misleading.

One of the hardest lessons for me to internalize was that just because I have nothing due tomorrow does not mean that I have nothing to do tonight.

College assignments tend to be much larger and more spaced out, and it is nearly impossible to start and finish most of them in a single evening. You will never regret starting an assignment too early, but I can guarantee you will regret starting it too late. Some people absorb this lesson early, and for others it will take watching the sunrise from the library with a thousand words left to write for the message to really sink in. Breaking down a large assignment like a research paper into manageable, daily chunks is what time management in college is all about. 

Interested in learning more about one Signet student's college experience? Read on for Olivia's next post on social adjustment and extra curriculars!